CategoryCurrent Affairs

Voting for a Racist is the New Normal

“America is already great because America is good”
– Hillary Clinton

Two weeks ago, that statement was dealt a severe blow as Donald Trump became President-Elect of the United States. Just like many others in my circle, it landed like a hard blow and made me question my beliefs and assumptions about this country. I’ve lived here for little over 16 years now or rather in two Bush terms and two Obama terms and never have I felt more despair in terms of this country’s future and ideals. To be honest, I’ve not yet completely recovered much less heed to any advice of being open to the “other side”. It’s almost like America woke up suddenly and said, it’s a white country and you just live in it.

The more I read about this election especially after a grueling and anger-inducing 16 months of campaigning, the more I believe that white America stood up and stamped its authority over this country of immigrants. We often ask each other that how could anyone vote for Trump after what he said and has done throughout the course of his campaign and his earlier life? He and his supporters offended Mexicans and other immigrants, African Americans and other minorities, Jews, disabled people, and even women. He was caught on tape bragging about sexually assaulting women and a dozen women came forward confirming that he indeed had. He called Mexicans rapists and criminals and implied black neighborhoods have an infestation of crime. He mocked disabled reporters.

Well, maybe…just maybe they voted for him just because of those things and not in spite of them. Perhaps he was so generous in his hatred of various sections of the society that people focused on the things they hated too and ignored the rest. This may just be a form of cognitive deafness if you may. A Muslim woman who hates Mexicans, or a feminist who hates Muslim, or a Latino who is sexist, or, well, you get the picture.

Pundits are already spinning narratives on why Clinton lost but don’t pay heed to those. The race angle only makes sense. I don’t say this lightly since I do (still) believe America tries the most in attempting to address the scourge of supremacy of one race or religion over the other. Except in this election, Republicans actively sought to support the candidate who dispensed with the dog whistle and actively courted white supremacists and anti-Semites.

The Republican base had been clamoring for a more overtly radical and less politically-correct candidate since the GOP chose to nominate moderates like McCain and Romney. Instead this time when the base won out and they got the brash loud-mouthed lout, they came out in droves to support the nominee. Data shows Trump won a lot more Romney voters in red counties or at least enough to counter the increased Latino voters in Democratic counties. In my opinion, Clinton’s only electoral folly was that she appealed to the better angels of the GOP’s nature only to find out that there were none. The moderate and #NeverTrump-ers either went back to the Republican fold or simply were too few to matter. A majority of whites, whether they were college educated or not, voted for Trump.

The Rust Belt is not evolving as rapidly as the other parts of the country in coming to terms with the new economy. Resentment against declining job opportunities and resistance to training for the newer jobs [1] was redirected to the presence of immigrants. Fear in those parts worked much better than hope. People did not vote for Trump in spite of his despicable views but because of it. He forced them to dig up their primal fears and baser instincts of resentment and victimhood based on a false sense of racial superiority. Other moderates hadn’t made those fears explicit yet.

Subtle hints didn’t work, obvious hints didn’t work; ultimately you just had to say it out loud and repeatedly for those people to get it. No amount of talking to them about ‘economic anxieties’ is going to matter. I’ve lived for 8 years in one of the more conservative towns in the country where college-educated white conservatives consider a space space under a Republican administration and a Democrat administration. The fear is real. No one was talking about reaching across to the liberals once Obama got elected in a far bigger mandate. They just got down to work and decided to beat liberals and in 2010, they laid the groundwork of doing just that.

However, to end on a slightly positive note, it turns out that just over 100,000 voters in three Rust Belt states (Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin) decided the election in which 130 million people voted in a country that has more than 320 million people. Of course, it was the Democrats much vaunted blue wall that cracked; however the signs have been there for a while now. So if there’s any reason to hope it’s that the majority of this country doesn’t subscribe to those views. As votes are still being counted, Clinton continues to increase her lead in the popular vote and may end up with at least 2 million votes or around a 2% margin. That’s a point and a half over Al Gore who also won the popular vote while losing the presidency. That’s progress; rest is just electoral college reality.

Footnotes:
  1. We see this as part of our professional jobs []

Comedy Roasts Bookend Trump’s Political Career

Given how obsessed I was with blogging about the previous three Presidential elections I’ve been witness to in this country, I completely missed documenting the most interesting one in 2016. Less than three weeks away, it may be coming to a predictable and anti-climactic end as Hillary Clinton is leading by more than 6 points in an average of polls.

RCP Poll of Polls Oct 2016 Screenshot

The last of the three debates concluded earlier this week and last night’s Al Smith’s Dinner was the last opportunity where both candidates meet in person. The latter is a social event and is known for self-deprecating humor speeches by the candidates. Although no Obama but Clinton held her own but Trump after a good start, bombed badly and was uncharacteristically booed by the audience. You could seem him smarting and get rattled. I bet his smartphone is hidden away lest he go on a late night tirade on Twitter again.

But more interesting was the fact that his entire political career has been bookended by comedy roasts. It’s said that he decided to finally run for President after he was skewered at the White House Correspondents Dinner by Obama and now less than three weeks before the election, Hillary drags him. There cannot be more justice in the world than to be finished off by people who belong to two groups that he has hated the most in this life – black people and women.

Now it’s the home stretch and his GOTV Director just quit last night but he has to pretend to win and be unwilling to concede through these last two weeks. Karma can be a bitch; Trump should know coz he’s called many people just that.

Motivations behind Brexit

The United Kingdom decisively voted (52-48) to leave the EU and has now caused massive economic uncertainity at the least. However, the underlying sentiment that drove natives to vote for ‘Leave’ was immigration. Like in America, they “wanted their country back” whatever that meant. In fact, it was nothing but approaching the tipping point of hetrogentity.

Europe has often prided itself on its liberal culture and attitude but just a whiff of immigration in recent years from the so-called undesiable parts of the world shatters that fragile image. Given its colonial past, Europe has never been friendly to other cultures and been accepted in some circles due to its economic benefits. A slight downtick in economic fortunes and like in the U.S., the native rush to blame immigration when in fact, it’s the one of the successes of globalization. Several dog whistles such as “cultural identity” have been used to justify tempering free mobility of people but that’s just a facade of shifting blame for declining economic fortunes on to people you know won’t fight back.

Heck, some people even thought when they’re voting for ‘Leave’, it meant that immigrants would’ve to leave UK. Naturally, the vote has led to several public displays of bigotry and prejudice. The sentiments always existed on the underbelly but it can only be manifested when the bigots feel empowered by people in power to freely express their racism.

It has happened in the U.S. for generations and its an on-going battle every year but so far saner heads have prevailed. UK just let the crazies take control and underestimated the power of hate to get the vote out. People point to the Scandanavian countries as places of bliss in terms of tolerance. I say, give it a few years, let in a few brown people, and then we’ll talk.

[image source: Freestocks at Flickr]

Math of the Democratic Primary

Finally, our long national nightmare is over. Yesterday, the last of the states voted in the Democratic Primary. Although Washington D.C will vote on the 14th, no one cares about them because, one, it will vote overwhelmingly for Clinton and two, because taxation without representation still holds true for the nation’s capital ironically. Anyway, to summarize the results of the primary:

Hillary Clinton now has:

  • Won a majority of the popular vote count
  • Won the most states
  • Won the most primaries/contests [1]
  • Won the most closed primaries
  • Won a majority of the pledged delegates

Bernie Sanders has:

  • Won a majority of caucuses

Ergo ‘super delegates’ will and most already have pledged support for Hillary Clinton (571 to Sanders’ 48) pushing her over the edge for securing the Democratic nomination quite comfortably.

Caucuses versus Primaries

As Five Thirty Eight projects, if the caucuses were primaries instead i.e. voters cast a ballot instead of spending time debating for a few hours before casting their vote, Hillary Clinton would end up winning a majority of those as well. A grand total of 10,000 people caucused in Alaska. If it was a primary, an estimated 57,000 would cast their ballot.

But why estimate when Washinghton State provides the perfect experiement. It held an official caucus that awarded the delegates on March 26. Bernie Sanders won 73% of the vote compared to Clinton’s 27%. Nearly 237,000 votes were cast in this caucus. The state also held a primary on May 24. This time, however, Hillary Clinton won 54% of the vote compared to Sander’s 46%, and even though these results wouldn’t matter and it was purely a symbolic primary, more than 800,000 votes were cast in this primary. I’ll leave it up to you to decide which method gives the opportunity to the most people to exercise their choice.

Even though Clinton won most of the open primaries i.e. open to non-Democrats, I would argue that all primaries should be closed. If you want to elect a nominee for the Democratic Party, you should be a member of the Democratic Party. It’s that simple. If you want to claim youself as an Independent, you’ll have to wait until the General Election to cast your vote. There are umpteen third-party candidates in the fray if you are not satisfied with the two major party candidates.

On to the General

However, remember that, given the structure of the country’s winner-take-all Electoral College, unless your third-party wins the majority of the electoral votes, your vote will benefit the eventual winner from the two major parties. This year, such votes will help elect Trump. You can still exercise your choice but that’s the unintended consequence whether you like it or not and nope, this is not being passive-agressive. It’s just the way things play out.

there is a chance

This Democratic Primary wasn’t really close although it went through to June. But that was mostly because California hadn’t voted hence giving the person who was behind a probable although very unlikely chance. If California had voted on Super Tuesday, we wouldn’t be having this conversation today.

Congratulations to Hillary Clinton. Now onward to beating Trump in the general.

Footnotes:
  1. includes territories that vote in primaries but not in the general. A total of 57 geographic contests were held this year []

Cling to your self-righteousness all you want, but be very clear that only some people can afford this kind of sacrifice.

Although I don’t think these people will make much of a difference but the holier-than-thou attitudes of people cited are infuriating none the less. I’m a realist and I’m rooting for Hillary Clinton in this election.

College tuition is not the reason for student debt

One of the cornerstone issues of the Bernie Sanders campaign is free college for all. This part seems to have excited many young people or as they’re now referred to as millennials.  I was in fact surprised that the ‘free’ part extends to all students regardless of their household income so technically a household earning a million dollars can also send their kids to college for free even if they can afford it. Sanders plans to fund this ‘free college’ scheme through a tax on Wall Street speculation. While I’ve never heard of numbers even in the ballpark range, this post is not about feasibility or economics of his campaign promise. This is primarily if making college free addresses the student debt problem that seems to be at the root of making such a promise.

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Respecting Institutions

The hallmark of developed democracies is the respect for institutions. People change. But institutions are what sustain a democracy. More specifically, respect for the authority of institutions separate you from the rest. The U.S. is notable for the brilliance of its Constitution. The built-in checks and balance through three branches of government – the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary – has imbued a sense of permanence of order in governance. It’s not perfect but like capitalism, it’s the least worst option. This Constitution has ensured peaceful transfer of power through generation even in times of intense strife. It’s this respect for a document that casts America as that shining city on the hill more than the might of its military. However, the sense of respect for this institution was rattled a little this week.

Out in the wilderness of West Texas, a Supreme Court Justice who went by the name of Antonin Scalia breathed his last. He was one of the polarizing figures to emerge from the conservative judicial circles and one of the top ‘Originalists’. A brilliant jurist and writer, he was the longest-serving Justice on the court and was as revered by the right as he was despised by the Left. Whatever your sentiments or opinions on Scalia, whats happens next is not usually up for debate. The nation and the media mourns his loss, the President nominates his replacement, the Senate vets the nominee, and then votes up or down to confirm the nomination.

So how did it play out this time?

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Mera Rant Mera Patriotism

Maane, I will rant against Indian bureaucracy/security/airports 24/7 but as soon as a foreigner does that, my patriotism starts bristling.

— Rohit Pradhan (@Retributions) January 21, 2016

Rohit is talking about a rant posted by Marion James (see below) who would’ve been just another tourist if he wasn’t the current winner of the Booker Prize and was visiting India to attend the Jaipur Literature Fest.

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Saving Atheism from New Atheists

The problems in the Middle East stemmed, not from imperial meddling in an oil-rich region but from Islam itself, a faith that resulted from (and then fostered) delusional thinking. On that basis, Hitchens was increasingly able to ally himself with the worst elements of the American right while insisting he remained a progressive.

You can see how the argument works. If belief in God stems from intellectual inadequacy, then all believers are feebleminded – and the most devout are the most feebleminded of all. All religions are bad but some religions – especially those in the Middle East, by sheer coincidence! – are worse than others.

In the name of enlightened atheism, you thus arrive at an old-fashioned imperialism: the people we just happen to be bombing are simple-minded savages, impervious to reason and civilisation. That was the secret of Hitchens’ success: he provided a liberal rationale for the “war on terror”.

You can proclaim you’re an atheist, a freethinker, a devotee of the enlightenment – and yet somehow still end up backing rightwing Christians like George W Bush and Ben Carson in their campaigns against the Muslim hordes.

Source: The Guardian. An excellent op-ed discusses the strange contradiction among ‘new’ atheists to focus solely on Islam as a way to understand terrorism in the Middle East without seeming to play right into the hands of the neo-conservatives.

I’ve been meaning to write on my thinking on why blaming some writing in a book for all the violence in the world is giving the terrorists an easy pass especially without acknowledging the non-violence of its other adherents. I’ll do that soon.

Justifying Violence

This statement was made by a recently-appointed Governor of Tripura. This isn’t about Gujarat but rather about the justification of violence. What happened in Gujarat was unfortunate but more than 13 years later, a public official can openly justifies the actions of a murderous few. Why? Simply because it is not an unpopular opinion in India. The general sentiment during and following any communal violence is that the other community should be taught a lesson. Often the lesson involves hacking to death innocent people of that community who probably had nothing to do with the act that people are offended by. It’s just like, advocating killing the nearest left-handed batsman if a left-handed batsman smacked a bowler with his bat in Australia. Apart from justifying violence as an appropriate reaction, people are often content to deflect the onus of “teaching them a lesson” onto others. So if a psychopath who would’ve otherwise committed a crime now feels emboldened. Most of us I’m sure will not kill anyone when it’s actually time to do so.

But still, such sentiments are expressed openly and without remorse even among close friends and family. I’ve heard them first-hand from people around me, men and women alike. Surprisingly, even from people whom otherwise you wouldn’t suspect of harboring such murderous tendencies in their hearts. Is it because they’ve never been told that such a reactions is in fact wrong? You live in your close circles where most agree with the sentiment and the tiny minority that doesn’t chooses to keep silent lest they be chastised for not agreeing with the majority.

Thankfully, in that sense, Twitter has been a boon. People especially openly tweet about what they think is the norm. It happened in the case of the Salman Khan verdict. Now they’re surprised by the backlash that such an opinion is in fact looked down upon. Maybe slowly, it will creep into their minds to be more civilized especially if you claim to belong to one of the oldest civilizations in the world.

The Real Purpose of the Prosecution

Like most people that may read this, I also got hooked on the Serial podcast that outlined the reexamination of the murder of Hae Min Lee, an 18-year-old high schooler in Baltimore that ended with the conviction of her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed. Produced in the This American Life stables, Serial takes a second look at the prosecution of the 15-year-old homicide case with Adnan still serving his prison sentence. There are umpteen theories of whether Adnan is guilty or not. Personally, I think he isn’t but that isn’t the point of this post.

What caught my attention the most while listening to his podcast was how the prosecution approaches a homicide case.

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Election Season in India

In a week’s time, election season will finally end in India although that doesn’t always mean we’ll soon have a government. India’s had a history of hung parliaments and more stuff happens behind the scenes post-elections than in the election campaign itself. That may probably shake your belief in the whole ‘world’s largest democracy’ but don’t let it. That’s how it is and probably will be even in many developed countries. That’s a well known bug in Democracy 4.21 and until someone comes up with a patch, it’s not gonna change. You could change to any other system but let’s be honest, there’s nothing out there half as good. Your choices are communism (Cuba, China, etc.), monarchy (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Brunei, etc.), dictatorship (North Korea, etc.), or pure chaos and anarchy (Pakistan, Somalia, etc.). Democracy or at least the way it is practiced in India or even the U.S. is the least worst option.

Anyway, after the mother of all segues there (not surprising, right?), whatever happens in India, it is almost assured via opinion polls that the Congress won’t be forming the government. For a change, I have been largely disengaged this time from the election fever. I remember the time in mid- and late-90s, when I used to stay up late night listening to the news and waiting for election results feverishly tracking my eyes on the rapidly-scrolling news ticker. This time, the people contesting the elections have not impressed. The three primary candidates – Rahul Gandhi, Narendra Modi, and Arvind Kejriwal – have been lackluster, threatening, and disappointing respectively. It may eventually turn out that we may have someone else as a Prime Minister in the end. Remember Deve Gowda, Chandrashekhar, and IK Gujral? Did anyone envision them to be Prime Ministers? But now, after their brief stint, they get all the perks of ex-PMs in their retirement. Man, what a con!

Just because I’ve been disinterested doesn’t mean everyone else is. In fact, everyone else is super gung-ho this time or maybe Twitter and Facebook has given them the illusion that people actually give a shit about what they think. Criticize Modi and hordes of his followers will drag your mother-sister through the muck. Support Gandhi and people laugh at you for being a brown-nose (let’s admit it, everyone criticizes Gandhi. He’s so easy to.) Support Kejriwal and…wait, why is anyone still buying his BS?

Anyway, whatever happens in a week, it will be definitely exciting. I just hope Modi doesn’t celebrate by doing what he does best (you know what I mean). Ab ki baar…Gujarat may get a bar?

Brown Traitors

The Devyani Khobragade incident is almost forgotten now and people have moved on to outraging about other things. But I’ve always wondered what about the incident prompted such visceral reactions from folks in India. The tweet above by actress and now-avid Twitterer/activist, Gul Panag [1] unwittingly encapsulates why the issue made Indians reflexively hate the United States.

At the heart of the issue, it was a very simple law and order problem. Khobragade lied on her visa application, underpaid her maid, and implored the maid to lie about it, all of which are serious crimes in the United States. However, the ensuing hullaballoo failed to highlight these issues and instead chose to dwell on conspiracy theories and debates on diplomatic immunity. If diplomatic immunity was in fact valid, India should’ve clamped down on the noise and keep repeating diplomatic immunity ad naseum and whisk Khobrgade out of the country. Other countries go to extreme lengths to protect their citizens charged with crimes in foreign lands but never is the crime excused. Debates on Twitter and the media pontificated on the differences in wages in the two country for both the maid and the consulate staff.

However, the most ridiculous theory thrown out even by prominent journalists and TV anchors in India was how Preet Bharara, the prosecuting U.S. Attorney was conducting a witch-hunt to prove his “American-ness” by punishing “fellow Indians”. Even otherwise educated and aware Indians subscribed to this view and brushed it off as not trusting politicians. The thinly veiled racism was evident but was shrouded in subtleties unlike Gul Panag’s tweet above. Why would a U.S. citizen albeit a brown person be deliberately prosecuting other brown people to prove his “Indianness”? Are all brown people always Indian regardless of what their passport says? Isn’t that similar to likening the norm of being American as being an Anglo Saxon White Protestant (WASP)?

In the history of the United States, the norm has never been more different. It is the ultimate melting pot and although the corridors of power are still dominated by white men, increasingly people of other races and backgrounds have been making their way in there. People like Preet Bharara who otherwise would be lauded on India Shining slideshows on Rediff and Times of India have worked their asses off often in face of still-prevalent institutional discrimination to get to their position.

There were other socioeconomic issues [2] at play too but this painting of Bharara as a “brown traitor” troubled me the most. I fail to understand the underlying sentiment (resentment?) that leads to such reactions. At what point is a brown person no longer an Indian? Does it take 3-4 generations? Any person is free to hold on to his or her ethnic or cultural background as long as they want but is it the right of others to claim such people as their own?

When other brown people who have lived outside India dare to point out inefficiencies in India, it is mostly because they’ve had the opportunity to see better. They’ve had the opportunity to witness a well-functioning government which for the most part takes care of its citizens and provides the basic amenities without much hassle. In today’s globalized age, most urban Indians also seem to be aware of these shortcomings so why the reflexive anger when an NRI points them out? Improvements start with criticisms and that’s how political change comes through e.g. Aam Aadmi Party’s electoral success. So next time, when your cousin from the U.S. come visiting and dares to utter a barely negative remark about India, don’t label him a traitor and ask him to go back to “his” country.

Footnotes:
  1. This post is not intended to target Gul Panag specifically but in fact, just to point out how otherwise sensible people harbor deep rooted resentment []
  2. underage and underpaid labor class in India and at times, among Indians outside of India []

Constantly Disappointed

For the past 5-6 years, I think we have been constantly living in a sense of disappointment. Perhaps the big financial crash scarred us and made us skeptical of everything around us even when things started to finally look up. The social media tools of quick feedback and need to comment on every issue you hear about often relied more on negativism. The tweets that bash people or make condescending puns tend to get retweeted more and hence subsequently get tweeted more. I’ve been guilty of this but over time, I realized the constant barrage of negativity around me. Part of the reason I stopped blogging as frequently was also because most of the posts we read during the heydays of blogging involved critical analysis, more often not constructive. So I decided to make a conscious effort of not doing that. The IIPM saga also hardened the cynic in me that nothing ever changes.

Among all the things we are constantly disappointed with, I think Obama’s presidency has to rank right at the top. More often than not, the right’s implication that he was considered a messiah by the left rings true. Things he never said or promised are often attributed to him e.g. ending all wars and waging none. What is easily forgotten that he in fact supported right until he got elected, the “good” war in Afghanistan. The drone warfare as illegitimate as it sounds is done with the complicity of the Pakistani and Yemeni governments (hence you don’t see drone strikes in Germany or India) and often result in a far fewer accidental civilian deaths. This is in no way a defense of the drone strikes. It should be subject to Congressional oversight and all legalities of conducting such strikes should be tested by the federal if not the Supreme Court; checks-n-balances and all that jazz.

However, this post tries to focus on the latest disappointment in the Obama presidency. I may often come across as an Obama apologist but this charge often comes from people who are more than willing to overlook the consequences of having the other side in charge [1] The rollout for Obamacare hasn’t been exactly smooth and the primary website where people can enroll has suffered from numerous technical glitches. If you use the relative scale, ten years ago, we couldn’t find WMDs that we were told existed before we invaded a Middle East country that cost thousands of American lives and countless civilian lives. Today, we have a slow website that can and is being fixed.

Obama clearly erred when he promised that no one would lose their existing insurance plans although such plans clearly are not up to the mark. He should’ve apologized and he did [2]. It’s like letting people drive around in cars without seat belts and unusually low emissions standards. The insurance companies have been conning people into a sense of complacency by offering junk plans and denying people benefits when it came time to pay for healthcare. How bad are these plans? Here’s one example:

Under her current junk plan, she would probably receive no more than a few hundred dollars of benefits for doctor visits and drugs. It wouldn’t cover her surgery, her chemotherapy, her many expensive medications, or the repeated diagnostic tests she’d likely require. She would end up with probably $119,000 of unpaid medical bills. With the Humana plan [from Healthcare.gov), those bills top out at $6,300 a year, no matter what.

The law addresses such plans but yup, Obama should’ve qualified his statements which I admit don’t make for good soundbites in a fast-paced media world of today. I’m no health policy wonk but the least the White House can do right now, is to let those people keep their plans (grandfathered-in) for the next three years but prevent insurance companies from offering them to new customers. The Landrieu Bill in the Senate, I believe fixes this while requiring insurance companies to also offer the higher priced alternatives and showing the additional benefits offered under them. But then, in my opinion, this would be the wrong policy choice. The overall negative impact is far worse than having to eat crow and admit you misspoke or lied earlier. But then again, there’s the reality to consider:

The other issue is that of the slow and sometimes non-responsive website. I believe that it won’t be fixed in time before the end of this month and while that is unacceptable, penalties if you don’t get insurance don’t kick in until March 31, 2014. Latest numbers suggested that nearly 500,000 have at least filled out an application but have not bought a plan. I guess they are waiting until they have to since coverage will not begin until Jan 1, 2014 anyway. But it’s a far cry from the single digit enrollments that media reported happened on the first day.

On the other side, I can totally relate with the problems experienced in launching a website that will contain information from multiple sources and be useful to all. Because I’ve been doing exactly that for the past few months. However, my task was a millionth times as small as the Healthcare.gov website but it gave me an in-depth understanding of how state procurement even for technical services worked and I suppose the federal one is even more convoluted. The state agency originally tasked with contracting out the development was restricted in the choice of vendors it could seek out. It could, by law, only select from the vendors in its database and the program manager had nothing to go by in the list apart from names of the vendors and she had to pick ten at random without even knowing if they were capable of developing what we wanted. Clearly this was a sub-optimal solution so the process of contracting a vendor fell to our office and we could reach out to many more people, lay out specific requirements, and eventually select a private development company after an exhaustive search that included an on-site demonstration.

In our example, we had to design the system such that it could accept data from four different data systems from our sites and yet be flexible enough to handle additional fields that we could factor in for research. People often told us one thing about their systems and the data they had and it turned out to be completely different when they eventually delivered the data. Luckily we could go back and redesign the interface to handle such inconsistencies. From what I understand, the Healthcare.gov directly connects to 50 state exchanges that have been developed independent of each other and may be subject to different requirements. To top it, it contained health data so was subject to HIPAA regulations that made it doubly complicated. Further, this development and testing was happening just as the other party was willing to shut down the government in order to defund the law that administered this venture. It would have been a massive surprise if everything worked perfectly from the start.

So as much as disappointed we want to be in our state of affairs, it’s always useful to place things in context and view it relatively. Of course, we should complain but to argue that we would be better off than what we are doing right now just makes me dismiss you entirely. Changes to the status quo may hamper one party’s political future but to use that to convince the otherwise-sensible among us that we are doomed is downright evil. And it’s sad that people are willing to outrightly dismiss the efforts rather than rolling up their sleeves and saying, ok lets fix this thing and get it going.

Footnotes:
  1. They say, politics is about choosing between the lesser of the two evils so your choice is always relative. You have to constantly think about, ok, I don’t like this guy but then whom would I rather have in his place? []
  2. Remember when Bush apologized for the Iraq war? Yeah, neither can I []

Futile Efforts: Immigration Reform

There was much hope and optimism for a comprehensive immigration reform after Mitt Romney got romped in the Presidential elections. Republicans including the usual nut jobs like Sean Hannity and Bill O’Reilly were coming to terms with the fact that they might have to reach out to the Hispanics. So the sense of hope for a solution wasn’t misplaced. But I was always a bit skeptical since the bill that tried to eliminate per-country quota died in the Senate, thanks to Chuck Grassley’s hold.

After months of negotiating and amendments, the Senate finally passed a bill that addressed most of the concerns from the perspective of skilled immigrants and the undocumented immigrants. It passed with a 67-23 vote that counts as overwhelmingly bipartisan in these frustrating times. All 23 No votes however came from Republicans. The bill then moved to the House that has a Republican majority. The House right now is practically defunct with even the usually bipartisan Farm Bill failing a vote. A bill to repeal Obamacare has been voted on 37 times and so have other bills on abortion and gay marriage. However, due to some strange machinations in the background, the Republicans now feel that they no longer have to court the Hispanic vote but in fact have to only convince more whites to vote for them. How is that a genuine long-term strategy is beyond me. Not all whites are racist conservative ideologues. Heck, even gay marriage enjoys majority support now across all race and ethnicities. In fact, even among the GOP representatives in the House, nearly 50% support immigration reform.

So why will the immigration bill fail if nearly all Democrats who hold 201 votes and 50% of Republicans who hold 234 votes support the bill? By simple math, that makes up nearly 300 votes and you need only 218 to pass a bill. Well, in a rational and logical democracy that would be the case. Not in a dysfunctional chaos that is now the U.S. Congress for whom denying Obama any legislative progress or modicum of governing is the goal. The bill will only get a vote if the Speaker brings it to the floor and he says, he won’t bring it to the floor unless a majority of Republicans support it. Why? Because fuck you, that’s why. He invokes a bizzarro rule called the Hastert Rule that is some kinda unwritten rule that a bill should have the majority of the majority party in favor.

If you really want to trace back the origin of the rot, it is not just the irrational hatred for Obama but the political process that makes such hatred potent. Gerrymandering, or using your party’s whims on redrawing the Congressional Districts is mostly to blame for this impasse. Any student of political science will tell you that the primary goal of an elected official is not to influence public policy or public service but simply to get reelected. Even the ones with noble intentions offer this excuse that in order to do good work, they’ve to be first reelected. Soon that goal becomes and end in itself. Congressmen smartly redraw the Congressional boundaries to ensure their victory so as not to rely on voters whims. Nearly 85% of Congressmen are elected from such districts. It’s only the other 15% that result in any turnover so you can imagine most Congressmen have lived in Washington forever. When you redraw the districts to suit your purpose, you can safely exclude people from other races and ethnicities that you know will not vote for you. You can then safely bash them and say the most racist things without any consequence. There are districts that are 95% white and with as much segregation that exists in this country, it is nearly impossible to exclude minorities unless you draw boundaries that shamelessly exclude them.

Both Republicans and Democrats are guilty of this though. It doesn’t help to have a black or Hispanic-dominated districts because of course, the Congressman will protect their interest. The real skill in politics should be striking a balance and looking after the interests of all people in your constituency. So in terms of this immigration bill, you have Congressmen like Louie Gohmert from Texas and Peter King from Iowa saying the most outrageously racist things but they don’t have to fear any electoral consequences because they come from dominant white and conservative districts that in fact, like them saying such things. Add up such Congressmen and they make up enough to create noise to derail sensible bipartisan legislation. And guess what, this gerrymandering is perfectly legal and constitutional.

Even god cannot help this country in face of such tiring circumstances.

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